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Servers vs. Food runners.

Am i the only one out here who greatly prefers it when the server brings out the food instead of food runners? If there is a mistake then the server is able to address it. I there is an issue and you tell the server, it just turns into a game of telephone.

I think around 10 years ago the food runner trend started and it is not one i like.

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  1. I sorta like the food runner gig. For the minimal times that the order is wrog the server gets engaged. If the server were busy running back and forth to the kitchen I would have to wait longer for the server to come to the table when needed.

    Two points though:

    1 - The server should be present at the table when the food arrive just to guide and make sure the order is correct. The old "it's the kitchen's fault" excuse goes out the window under this scenario. Server needs to take some responsibility in the process.
    2 - The server should not ask "how is everything" until the table has a chance to actually try the food. That question is not for the benefit of the server checking the box...it is for the benefit of the customer trying the food and being able to answer with data.

    3 Replies
    1. re: jfood

      jfood--- my biggest issue that that number one rarely occurs (including some 4-star restaurants).

      I also think expectations are different depending on the price tier of the restaurant. I can understand using food runners at Chillis, but I think a higher level of service is expected at a Michelin rated restaurant. I name name many 4-star restaurants in Minneapolis and Chicago where food runners are regularly used and the waiter is rarely seen.

      Part of my bias may be due to the fact that I don't drink alcohol so I know that I tend to get less attention from servers to begin with. And the use of food runners just tend to exasperate the problem.

      1. re: DukeFan

        I guess I have been fortunate on number 1 with about a 75-80% rating. If there is an issue and I have to find the server then we know what happens at the end of the meal. There was one occasion in Chicago when the server took my order and i did not see him til the bill arrived. I placed "zero" as the tip on the charge, walked over to the MOD when leaving and handed him $5 and asked him to give to the runner since he did all the work.

        I am also glad you mentioned that you see a drop in service when the servier is told you are a non-drinker since I am as well. If the service suffers because of this I cut the tip in half and max out at 10%. This happens probably 25-30% of the time.

        1. re: jfood

          This is actually one of the reasons i often prefer eating at the bar. For a bartender i am actually one of their more profitable customers instead if being one of the least profitable for a server

    2. I like the idea of SPS - Single Point of Service. Anything different becomes to confusing at the time of calculating and delivering the tip - for those of us who don't mindlessly thrown down an "expected" 20% - and I truly don't mean that in a snarky manner.

      (more often than not, I've had negative service experiences when multiple people are involved.)

      1 Reply
      1. re: CocoaNut

        Food runners are an American version of the classic European system of Front and Back waiters.

        The function of "food runners' today is to increase check averages by freeing waiters to explain dishes to diners.

        Additionally, guests are protected from the painful perception that waiters are manual laborers who are serfs to guests.

        We are in a celebrity driven culture and the "food runner" trend is an example of this.

      2. I must be really easy to please or something. I hardly ever have bad experiences in restaurants. Maybe my expectation level is low? Somehow, I don't seem to attract the horrible service so many restaurant goers suffer through. And I haven't had a drink in years. Didn't know that was a problem waiting to happen until today.

        I have two friends I no longer eat out with, as they always draw conflict to the table (two separate guys in two separate cities, btw, not a couple). "The waiter didn't do this the way I wanted. The waiter wore the wrong cologne. I had to wait two minutes -- two minutes! -- for my coffee (salad, bill)." I'm sure each has opined voluminously and vociferously on the way food runners ruin the dining experience. But I wasn't there to hear it.

        1. If runners get my food to me faster and hotter I'm all for it.

          1. Food Runners have been around for more than 45 years (that I remember) in steak houses. There is little worse than cold steak, and good steakhouses had runners to make sure the steak gets to the patron in less than 90 seconds of being plated.
            In other establishments, food runners moved food from the kitchen to the wait station and the waiter/ress served the patrons. I have no problem with runners assisting this way.
            I don't like it when the waiter/ress only takes the order and presents the check. This is not enough service to justify the wiater/ress getting a full tip on the check.

            As to mistakes, I simply inform the runnner to get the Manager and let the manager deal woth the errors.

            8 Replies
            1. re: bagelman01

              My experience; which is limited to the 80's as I have been a mid-level bartender for a long time, is that runners make 40% after tipping out the bussers and the captain.

              By the way the captain cannot legally be a manager and share in the tip pool.

              1. re: postemotional1

                Experience and customs vary. I've been in many places with runners and no captains. Also, I know a few local restaurants where runners get only 15% of the waiter/tress' tips. These runners tend to be teenagers who are just learning the trade and hope to be promoted to wait positions and larger tip income.

                BTW>>what a manager can and cannot do legally is jurisdictional. Your blanket statement is not accurate throughout the USA (and I do have a Juris Doctor degree and have studied labor law).

                1. re: bagelman01

                  My bad.

                  The tip pooling law is in MA.

                  Top of the Hub ran afoul of it several years ago.

                  What are the laws in other states?

                  I am curious.

                  1. re: bagelman01

                    15%!

                    That's all?

                    WTH?

                    They are being exploited and not in a way that is educational or upwardly mobile.

                    That is shameful.

                    I would never knowingly dine at such an establishment.

                    I was a busser in the 70's and we made that then and we weren't even servers.

                    Inexcusable.

                    1. re: postemotional1

                      15%, but as I understand it, they get paid a much higher hourly rate than servers.

                      1. re: postemotional1

                        15% of each of the servers tips. equating to .75 of a point to the 1 full point granted to a server. if there are 4 servers on and one food runner. the tip pool consists of 4.75 points. the total of the tips is then divided by 4.75. the value of one point is determined and given to each server. then 3/4 of the point is given to the runner. its not only 15% of the total. its 15% less than the total.

                  2. re: bagelman01

                    I don't like it when the waiter/ress only takes the order and presents the check. This is not enough service to justify the wiater/ress getting a full tip on the check.
                    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~
                    unfortunately this has been my experience more often than not in recent years. i can't stand it when the food arrives and the server is nowhere to be found. the person who took the order should be present when it hits the table to ensure that everything is satisfactory...and in my experience these days that's rarely the case.

                    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                      Usually a restaurant that has a food runner system has an "expediter" at the window where the food comes out and their job is to check the orders to make sure they're complete and correct before summoning a food runner to deliver it. Cheesecake Factory is a perfect example of the system using an expediter and runners.

                  3. food runners/wait assistants have been around for ages. they are lifesavers for bigger restaurants, places w staircases, and for large parties. anybody complaining about food runners has never been part of the 16-top on the balcony, where everybody actually got their food at the same time. the existence of food runners helps to ensure that everybody gets their food while it's hot-- otherwise a server can get in the weeds pretty easily dealing with another table's issues, while *your* table's food sits congealing under a heat lamp. the position of food runner is also a good restaurant's training mechanism for the servers-- new hires start as bussers, then work up to runners, & then after they are familiar with the menu and the flow of the establishment, they can move up to full fledged servers. they are not green, clueless, or unhelpful on their first day on the job as servers, because of their experience as runners. don't we all hate to have a server on her/his first day on the job, with no clue about the menu?

                    ime, team service is much smoother overall than a single server-- i actually love to watch a good team of waitstaff seamlessly serve a big table, this is how the water glass gets filled without you seeing it, and how you return from the restroom and find your napkin folded on your chairback, and find that all your other little whims and comforts have been anticipated, because several people are watching out for you, not just one person who can't be in three places at once.

                    places i don't anticipate seeing food runners include diners and places with less than 40 seats. everywhere else, they would seem to be essential. this is a very odd diner's peeve for me to wrap my head around.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: soupkitten

                      i can't answer for anyone else, but my particular peeve isn't with the existence of runners. rather it's the tendency for servers to vanish after taking my order and not reappear until it's time for dessert...presumably because they believe that since the runners are delivering the food, there's no need for them to come back to the table. how about checking in to see if everything arrived as it was ordered, or to find out if i'm enjoying my meal or if there's anything else i might want or need *before* plunking a dessert menu in front of me?

                      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                        see, that's not my experience, and not how it's supposed to work. the food runner is an extra set of hands to get food/drinks out if the server is otherwise occupied, or if the server can't carry 15 plates at once, the wait assistant-- well, assists, naturally. but the server is still checking in. a food runner may switch the flatware or refill water/coffee, or pick up on a customer issue that comes up in the server's absence-- usually a small detail, or get the server on it, pronto. it doesn't work for the server to be completely mia, they are the main communicator between the table and the restaurant, after all.

                        in the situation you describe, your issue is with the server, not the wait assistant. it is not the wait assistant's fault if a server is mia-- and it may not even be the server's fault, many chain restaurants for example stretch their servers very thin and expect the wait assistants to pick up the slack. i fail to see how getting rid of the runners would result in better service, if a place is already minimally staffed.

                        1. re: soupkitten

                          i know how it works, i waited tables many moons ago...and i know it's not the runner's fault, i never said it was - when a server is MIA, i blame the server. i respect and appreciate the way runners work their asses off to keep things afloat, particularly when a restaurant is slammed. back in my waitressing days there were times when i probably would have been in the weeds for my entire shift had it not been for the runners & bussers. but i think *some* servers take the knowledge that the runners have it covered as license to neglect their tables. or at least that's what i imagine to be the reason why i've had many a server vanish after taking my order and never reappear at the table until it was time for dessert.

                          i know monku mentioned Cheesecake Factory above, but i haven't eaten there or anywhere like it in at least 15 years. i don't say that to be a snob AT ALL but merely to make a point that the scenario i described happens to me at smaller and independent establishments...occasionally pretty high-end ones.

                    2. Food runner system has been around much longer than 10 years, most people take it for granted and most of the time they don't remember who took their order or who's delivering it.

                      It's done at all kinds of restaurants from your fast food places like Carls Jr. to 5 star restaurants. Who cares who delivers your food as long as it comes out hot and the order is correct what difference should it make. I'd rather my food be in front of me when it's hot rather than knowing its finished, but I'm watching my server take the order at the table next to me explaining all the daily specials.

                      1. So a tip is left. What percentage do the often MIA, haute "order takers" get?

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: CocoaNut

                          Every house is different.
                          Might be a dollar amount or percentage per shift.

                        2. I don't mind runners. At all. I have also found that any request that starts with "could you let our server know.." to pretty much any staff member in the restaurant in a place with this set up results in your server standing in front of you in less than five minutes. Otherwise, your server is there to help you decide what to order, help you get drinks, and correct any problems with your order. As mentioned, you server should definitely make an appearance about five minutes after your order hits the table, and they should do that for every course, though.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Raids

                            yup, that's how it's supposed to work.

                          2. I agree with the point someone made about the importance of runners in a steak house. I'd say it goes double for seafood. I remember one attempt at bringing a decent seafood restaurant to Nashville, back in the late '70s; the kitchen was okay, but the wait staff was both too sparse and inexperienced, and on both my visits I watched my fish shrivel and die under the service-window heat lamp while the server was taking orders and filling glasses.

                            A well-run restaurant with coordinated runners, servers and bus people can be a real pleasure, and worth the extra few dollars on the prices. When the people doing the work are going strictly by the book, however, things can get a little testy; I remember one night at a "Bistro" run by a highly formula-driven local restaurant group, when the bus guy yanked my escargot plate off the table just as I was about to finish off the lovely garlic butter with some bread, and utterly ignored my protests.

                            1. Maybe this doesn't happen in higher -end places with food runners, but the arrival of the runners usually signals the start of the "food auction", i.e. "Who had the fettucine carbonara?" I am sometimes tempted to grab something I didn't order, because it looks better than what I did order. :)

                              That being said, runners don't bother me, although, like others have suggested, the server ought to be there, and check in every so often.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: t75atc

                                No, it does. I almost posted the same thing. It's kind of bizarre, because my server friends always told me that you *never* auction the food, and yet food runners do it all the time at all levels of restaurants.

                                But I can't think of any reason of why this should bother me really...

                              2. It's nearly impossible for the server to bring food to tables in most restaurants. I work in a large upscale restaurant in NYC and there's no way for us to know when the food would be ready without just standing in the kitchen. We have a policy that says we are to check on the table 2 minutes after the food is delivered, but it's my personal policy to try to be there helping the runner pass out the food so I can guarantee everything is in place and they have a good start.

                                And don't worry, the runner staff gets a very generous share of our tip percentage... they are well taken care of!

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: iamraven

                                  I'll preface this with the fact that I haven't waited tables in 35 years, but disagree with your assumptions.
                                  "there's no way for us to know when the food would be ready without just standing in the kitchen"
                                  I worked in many restaurants that either had bells or electric lighted displays to inform waiters that food was ready for pickup.

                                  When I worked at large resort hotels, the runner/busboy brought the food to my station, I served the guests. This is the opposite of your "personal policy to try to be there helping the runner pass out the food so I can guarantee everything is in place and they have a good start" If you can be at the table when the food is to be served, then as the patron I expect you to serve the food, not help the runner pass out the food and guarrantee everything is in place. Your policy seems to be a role reversal of jobs. After all, you are the server. As the patron, I don't care what your tip sharing arrangement is, I tip on the amount spent and service received.

                                  1. re: bagelman01

                                    Bells? Lights? This in NOT how it's done in upscale restaurants these days, to be sure. Often the kitchen is physically quite removed from the dining room, and the servers are expected to be on the floor, overseeing tables. The food runners are there to loop through the kitchen and deliver food when it's ready. That's their job. The server's job is to be on the floor, anticipating any needs their tables might have. When you tip on the service received, it's the service received from a team, not one person (in this case).

                                    1. re: purple bot

                                      dh, in his serving days, worked at a very popular place, a converted hotel. the kitchen was literally an entire city block away from the patio tables. i don't think anyone would have been pleased with the service or the temp of their food, had it not been for the wait assistants there.

                                      1. re: soupkitten

                                        Exactly, SK. Would these people rather they get their food cold, when their server was able to *personally* place it in front of them. Jeez.

                                2. Last restaurant I worked in (I worked both as a waitress and a food runner at this place, not a well managed restaurant at all). If it wasnt busy the server would almost always bring the food out themselves. At peak times, food runners would have to used because of the large number of orders and numbers of people to one table. 8 people at one table would require a waitress and a food runner to bring the food out.

                                  The server/waitress would always take the food off the tray the food runner was holding and place it on the table in order of whomever placed the food order first etc, a food runner is to never serve the customer ever, just stand there and hold food. If I was a food runner, we'd be the life saver of the night seriously, we'd be the connection between kitchen/kitchen staff and servers. If waitering that night..Food runners were extremely important.

                                  1. I couldnt care less which style of service is adopted. The important issue for me is that it's professional - i.e. seamless and all but invisible.

                                    1. Coming from Vermont I experienced runners for the first time in a very busy, popular restaurant in San Francisco last month. I was a bit surprised, but didn't find it a problem. The waiter served our entrees, but the runners brought the wine and dessert, and we didn't find it a problem.